More Layoffs at MakerBot

MakerBot CEO [Nadav Goshen] announced that changes are needed to ensure product innovation and support long-term goals in a blog post published yesterday. To that end, MakerBot will reduce its staff by 30%. This follows a series of layoffs over a year ago that reduced the MakerBot workforce by 36%. With this latest series of layoffs, MakerBot has cut its workforce by over 50% in the span of two years.

In addition to these layoffs, the hardware and software teams will be combined. Interestingly, the current Director of Digital Products, [Lucas Levin], will be promoted to VP of Product. Many in the 3D printer community have speculated MakerBot is pivoting from a hardware company to a software company. [Levin]’s promotion could be the first sign of this transition.

When discussing MakerBot, many will cite the documentary Print the Legend. While it is a good introduction to the beginnings of the desktop 3D printer industry, it is by no means complete. The documentary came out too early, it really doesn’t mention the un-open sourceness of MakerBot, the lawsuit with Form Labs wasn’t covered, and there wasn’t a word on how literally every other 3D printer manufacturer is selling more printers than MakerBot right now.

Is this the end of MakerBot? No, but SYSS is back to the pre-3D-printer-hype levels. Stratasys’ yearly financial report should be out in a month or so. Last year, that report was the inspiration for the MakerBot obituary. It’s still relevant, and proving to be more and more correct, at least from where MakerBot’s Hardware business stands.

3D Printer Transforms to CNC

Superficially, it is easy to think about converting a 3D printer into a CNC machine. After all, they both do essentially the same thing. They move a tool around in three dimensions. Reducing this to practice, however, is a problem. A CNC tool probably weighs more than a typical hotend. In addition, cutting into solid material generates a lot of torque.

[Thomas Sanladerer] knew all this, but wanted to try a conversion anyway. He had a few printers to pick from, and he chose a very sturdy MendelMax 3. He wasn’t sure he’d wind up with a practical machine, but he wanted to do it for the educational value, at least. The result, as you can see in the video below, exceeded his expectations.

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Stuff An Android In Your Xbox Controller’s Memory Slot

What is this, 2009? Let’s face facts though – smartphones are computing powerhouses now, but gaming on them is still generally awful. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got the horsepower to emulate any system from the last millennium when your control scheme involves awkwardly pawing away at glass when what you need is real buttons. You need a real controller, and [silver] has the answer – a 3D printed phone mount for the original Xbox Controller.

It’s more useful than it initially sounds. The original Xbox used USB 1.1 for its controllers. With a simple OTG cable, the controllers can be used with a modern smartphone for gaming. The simple 3D printed clamp means you can have a mobile gaming setup for pennies – old controllers are going cheap and it’s only a couple of dollars worth of filament. The trick is using the controller’s hilariously oversized memory card slots – for some reason, Microsoft thought it’d be fun to repackage a 64MB flash drive into the biggest possible form factor they could get away with. The slots also acted as a port for online chat headsets, and finally in 2017, we’ve got another use for the form factor.

For the real die-hard purists, [silver] also shares a photo of a similar setup with a Nintendo 64 controller – including a big fat USB controller adapter for it, hanging off the back. Not quite as tidy, that one.

It’s a neat little project – we love to see useful stuff built with 3D printers. If you’ve been looking for something functional to print, this is it. Or perhaps you’d like to try these servo-automated 3D printed light switches?

3D Printer with Tilted Bed

[Oliver Tolar] and [Denis Herrmann], two students from the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW), designed and produced a 3D printer prototype that has a movable printing bed that can tilt. By tilting, objects with critical overhangs can be printed without the additional support material. The printer has six axes, three axes control the print head as usual and three other axes control the printing bed, allowing a wider range of movements.

The students claim that besides saving on the support material this printer can actually save time while printing objects that need a lot of support since, we assume, it’s faster to tilt the bed than to print the support itself. In normal 3D printers the plate is always horizontal and the print object is built up in horizontal layers. In this printer, for large overhangs, the printing bed is held in such a way that the print object is pivoted until perpendicular to the print head. Of course, for round shapes it will probably be different but we only saw it in action in one demonstration video. There is also the plus side that, when a print finishes, it’s finished. No x-acto knife to remove support, no sand paper, no time wasted.

Having the software controlling the bed properly was more difficult than the assembly of the printer, they said. It is still under development as it cannot, for example, simultaneously move the print head and printing bed to produce a continuous print.

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Good Penmanship With A 3D Printer

[Chris Mitchell] was going to make his own plotter for doing cursive writing for cards but realized he might be able to use his 3D printer to do the writing instead. But then he couldn’t find any suitable software so he did what you’re supposed to do in this situation, he wrote his own called 3DWriter. He even 3D printed a holder so he could attach a pen to the side of the extruder. When not in use as a plotter he simply retracts the pen tip.

The software is written in C# for Windows and is available on GitHub along with a detailed write-up. He clearly put a lot of thought into what features the software offers. After selecting the font, you type in whatever you want printed and then preview it to make sure it looks good. There’s also a bunch of G-Code settings you can fill in such as bed size, the horizontal and vertical offsets of the pen tip from the extruder tip, drawing speed and so on. There’s even an option to do a dry run with the pen raised so you can make sure it’ll draw on the bed where you expect it to.

The code itself is quite clean and easy to understand. If you’re curious like we were at what information is in the font files and how it’s translated into G-Code then download the source from the GitHub page and have a look. [Chris] settled on a font set called Hershey fonts since they’re primarily stroke based fonts as opposed to outline fonts which are what other programs he’d looked at used.

This makes us think of all those 3D printers with busted extruders we’ve seen collecting dust on hackerspace shelves or simply ones considered obsolete. Using them as a plotter gives them new life — even if just as a fun way to learn about writing code for CNC machines. It makes us wonder what other 2D uses they can be put to… cutting vinyl? laser printing? Ideas anyone?

In any case, have a look at the video below to see it in action as a 2D plotter. As a bonus, you’ll also see line art it drew using an Inkscape plugin.

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Ardu McDuino Plays the Bagpipes

To “pipe in” the new year, [John] decided to build a bagpipe-playing robot. Unlike other instrument-playing robots that we’ve seen before, this one is somewhat anatomically correct as well. John went the extra mile and 3D printed fingers and hands to play his set of pipes.

The brains of the robot are handled by an Arduino Mega 2560, which drives a set of solenoids through a driver board. The hands themselves are printed from the open source Enabling the Future project which is an organization that 3D prints prosthetic hands for matched recipients, especially people who can’t otherwise afford prosthetics. He had to scale up his hands by 171% to get them to play the pipes correctly, but from there it was a fairly straightforward matter of providing air to the bag (via a human being) and programming the Arduino to play a few songs.

The bagpipe isn’t a particularly common instrument (at least in parts of the world that aren’t Scottish) so it’s interesting to see a robot built to play one. Of course, your music-playing robot might be able to make music with something that’s not generally considered a musical instrument at all. And if none of these suit your needs, you can always build your own purpose-built semi-robotic instrument as well.

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Where There’s Smoke, There’s a Knockoff 3D Printer

These days, it’s possible to buy clones of popular 3D printers from China for satisfyingly low prices. As always, you get what you pay for, and while usable, often they require some modification to reach their full potential. [g3ggo] recently laid down €270 for a clone of the Prusa i3 by Geeetech, knowing it would require some modifications for safety and performance.

First on the bill was a wobbly Z-axis, which was dealt with by printing some new parts designed to fix this issue which have already been developed by the community. Forums are your friend here – often an enterprising user will have already developed fixes for the most common issues, and if they haven’t, you can always step up to be the hero yourself. There was a darker problem lurking inside, though.

[g3ggo] began to wonder why the MOSFETs for the hot end were running so hot. It turned out to be an issue of gate drive – the FETs were only being driven with 5V, which for the given part, wasn’t enough to reach its lowest R_DS(on) and thus was causing the overheating issue. It gets worse, though – the heatsinks on the MOSFETs were bolted on directly without insulation, and sitting fractions of a millimeter above traces on the PCB. Unfortunately, with a small scratch to the soldermask, this caused a short circuit, destroying the hot end and MOSFETs and narrowly avoiding a fire. This is why you never leave 3D printers unattended.

The fix? Replacing the MOSFETs with a part that could deal with a 5V gate drive was the first step, followed by using insulating pads & glue to stop the heatsinks contacting the PCB. Now with the cooler running MOSFETs, there’s less chance of fire, and the mainboard’s cooling fan isn’t even required anymore. Overall, for a small investment in time and parts, [g3ggo] now has a useful 3D printer and learned something along the way. Solid effort!